Following an injury to veteran running back Matt Forte in Week 8 against the Minnesota Vikings, rookie running back Jeremy Langford is set to give the Chicago Bears a glimpse of the future in Week 9 on Monday Night Football against the San Diego Chargers.
Forte suffered a knee injury early in the second half against the Vikings and missed the remainder of the contest. According to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport, Langford is expected to get the start on Monday:
With Forte expected to be out of the lineup on Monday night, Langford will get his first opportunity to prove to the organization he has what it takes to be a starting running back in the NFL.
The Bears selected Langford in the fourth round of this year's draft after he put up stellar numbers during his final two years at Michigan State.
|Langford's Career as a Starter at Michigan State|
|Year||Carries||Rushing Yards||Touchdowns||Receptions||Receiving Yards||Touchdowns|
Langford began his collegiate career as a defensive back before moving to running back his sophomore season. He put together two strong seasons as a starter at running back, and the Bears drafted him partly because of his speed and athleticism.
“Very productive, athletic," said general manager Ryan Pace after the draft, per CBSChicago.com. "The standout trait with him is really his speed. This guy has home run ability. He’s got upside, has played multiple positions so he’s still getting better as a running back. But this guy stands out and we’re excited to have him here.”
The rookie began training camp as the team's No. 3 running back behind Forte and veteran Jacquizz Rodgers, but he carried the ball 28 times for 153 yards with one touchdown during the preseason.
Langford ran the football just one time for one yard against the Green Bay Packers in Week 1 before carrying the ball six times for 21 yards with one touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2. He carried the ball a total of eight times for 12 yards from Week 3 through Week 6, but he received 12 carries in Week 8 and ran for 46 yards following Forte's injury.
Forte's injury is frustrating because of how well he has played this season, but his absence will give the Bears an opportunity to see what their offense could look like in the future with the former Michigan State Spartan lined up in the backfield.
Langford is similar to Forte because both backs have strong hands and good vision, but the rookie running back possesses a few other traits that make him an intriguing option for the team moving forward.
Speed and Acceleration in the Open Field
Forte is the type of running back who has found success in the past because of his good vision and ability to find creases along the line of scrimmage, but he has never been the type of back who can beat a team with his speed.
Langford's 4.42-second 40-yard dash time at the NFL Scouting Combine in February was the fastest among all running backs, and starting tackle Kyle Long raved earlier this week about the young running back's acceleration out of the backfield.
“Once he gets through the line, he can just shoot out there,” Long said of Langford, per Nate Atkins of ChicagoFootball.com. “So I think from a linear standpoint, you'll see a guy who's running downhill, and I think Bears fans will like it. I know I like the guy a lot. He runs hard, and he's a tough kid."
Langford showed off that speed and acceleration in the second preseason game of the year against the Indianapolis Colts.
Early in the third quarter, Langford lined up to the left of quarterback Jimmy Clausen in Chicago's four-receiver set:
The offensive line blocked to its left, and Langford cut back to his right:
Langford accelerated quickly through the hole and was able to pick up 46 yards on the carry:
According to Pro Football Focus, the Chargers are the worst team against the run this season, registering a minus-44.3 run-defense grade through eight games. Because of Langford's acceleration and vision, he has a chance to put up big numbers against a Chargers team that is allowing 124.6 rushing yards per game this season.
In addition to having the speed to break off big runs, Langford is also a tough runner between the tackles.
Toughness Between the Tackles and in Pass Protection
While Langford has the speed to make big plays in the open field, he also has the ability to pick up crucial yards between the tackles in the power-running game.
During Langford's senior season at Michigan State, CBSSports.com's Dane Brugler pointed out the young running back's toughness:
He has scored just two touchdowns this season, but both have come on one-yard runs on the goal line. The rookie running back plays with physicality in short-yardage situations, and he has proven to be trustworthy with the football in his hands.
In addition to being reliable in short-yardage situations, he has also been a willing blocker in pass protection.
“My job is to protect the quarterback,” Langford said, per John Mullin of CSNChicago.com. “And really it was that way in college—you didn’t want to see your quarterback hit, and you want him to trust me to make my block.”
Langford showed off his ability in pass protection against the Lions in Week 6.
With the Bears trailing 14-10 in the middle of the second quarter, Langford lined up in the backfield just to the right of quarterback Jay Cutler:
The Lions sent a blitz through the B-gap between left tackle Charles Leno and left guard Matt Slauson, and Langford seamlessly slid to his left to pick up the blitzer before he could get to Cuter:
Langford has played sporadically this season, but when he has been on the field, he has been asked to run both inside and outside of the tackles, to pick up blitzes in pass protection and to be a threat in the passing game out of the backfield.
Head coach John Fox said earlier this week he has been impressed with Langford's character, per Adam Jahns of ChicagoFootball.com:
I like his football character. It’s not too big for him. He’s very willing. So his mindset is to learn. I think Stan Drayton, his position coach, has done a tremendous job with him. And a lot of it is he’s very receptive. I call it football character. He picks things up very well for a young player.
Langford has played well in limited opportunities this season, but Monday night will be his first chance to be the team's featured back. He has the acceleration and speed to be a factor once he gets to the second level, but he has also proven he can pound the football between the tackles in short-yardage situations.
He did drop a crucial pass in last week's game against the Vikings, but he has been a reliable receiver out of the backfield this season.
Forte may end up only being on the sidelines for a week or two with his injury, but Langford will have a chance on Monday night to put his name in the running to be Chicago's starting running back in 2016.
Statistical information courtesy of NFL.com unless otherwise noted.
Matt Eurich is a Chicago Bears featured columnist for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.